Friday, August 29, 2008

Fall 2008 Theatre Calendar


The leaves will soon be falling, and local theatres’ curtains will soon be rising. Here’s what’s coming up:

Beck Center for the Arts, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, 216-521-2540 An encore production of the uproarious Tony Award-winning comedy, ‘URINETOWN THE MUSICAL,’ opening on the Mackey Main Stage September 12 and running through October 12, 2008. This show, which critics called the “must see” production of 2005, will feature the return of the original cast and creative team from Beck’s production.

Workshop Players, 44820 Middle Ridge Road, Amherst, 440-988-5613
‘LYING IN STATE,’ a spoof of politics and funerals. September 11-28. For information go to

The Bang and Clatter Theatre, 224 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, 330-606-5317 or www.bnctheatre,com
The Ohio Premiere of ‘THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE’ by Martin McDonagh, which has been called a cunningly constructed, deeply and intensely felt, bitterly blood curdling and breathtakingly funny.” Runs September 5 through October 11, Thursdays through Sundays.

Playhouse Square, 216-241-6000 or online at
The electrifying, bashing, crashing, banging, kicking, joyous ‘STOMP’ returns to Cleveland for four performances, October 3 -5, 2008. The return of the percussive hit also brings some new surprises, with some sections of the show now updated and restructured and the addition of two new full-scale routines, utilizing props like tractor tire inner tubes and paint cans.
‘A CHORUS LINE’ October 14-26, 2008, Palace Theatre. Winner of nine Tony Awards, including “Best Musical” and the Pulitzer Prize for drama, this singular sensation is the longest-running American Broadway musical ever. This is the musical for everyone who’s ever had a dream and put it all on the line. Come meet the new generation of Broadway’s best.

Dobama Theatre/Karamu co-production, Karamu House, 2355 E. 89th Street, 216-795-7077 or 216-932-3396,,
Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s groundbreaking musical ‘CAROLINE, OR CHANGE’ revisits the early 1960’s, a period of sweeping change in race relations as it affects two families, one Southern Jewish and the other African American. The Gelman's son, Noah, worships Caroline, their dignified African American domestic, as a surrogate mother figure. Their tentative and touching relationship is at the heart of this powerful story, infused with an exhilarating mix of music: classical, R&B, Motown, Klezmer, and Negro spirituals. September 19-October 12.

Great Lakes Theatre Festival, Hanna Theater (the new home of GLTF),, 216-241-6000
Fall repertory September 24-November 8. ‘MACBETH’ and ‘INTO THE WOODS.’ See politics and magic meld in Shakespeare’s unforgettable masterpiece and also experience Stephen Sondheim’s bewitching collection of classic fairy tale characters as they romp though a “once upon a time” kingdom in a magical Broadway musical.

Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, 216-795-7000,
Tennessee William’s semi-autographical masterpiece, ‘THE GLASS MENAGERIE,’ on stage from September 12-October 5, followed by the hysterical British farce ‘NOISES OFF’ being staged from October 3rd to the 26th, then Lorraine Hansberry’s classic tale ‘ A RAISIN IN THE SUN’ from November 7-30, followed by a revival of ‘ A CHRISTMAS STORY’ from November 28-December 21.

Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit, Cleveland, 216.631.2727, x501
GOLDSTAR, OHIO’ is a new play by Cleveland native Michael Tisdale that tells the stories of the 22 Marines from the Brook Park, Ohio based 325 Battalion who lost their lives in Anbar Province, Iraq. The play is a work of non-fiction created from transcripts of interviews with the families of the fallen Marines. October 16 - November 8.

Ensemble Theatre, Studio One Theater of the Cleveland Play House, 216-3421-2930
From Sept. 19 - Oct. 5, Edward Albee’s Theatre of the Absurd ’WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?’ This existentialistic masterwork from the 1960’s revolves around the conflictive marriage of George & Martha. A biting and timeless American classic! From Nov. 21-Dec. 7 in Brooks Theatre, Beth Henley’s ‘THE LUCKY SPOT’ will be on stage. This is a whacky comedy set in a depression dance hall in Louisiana which asks, “what hope might be found by the hopeless?”


Monday, August 18, 2008

Altar Boyz

‘ALTAR BOYZ’ entertaining at Beck, but…

The recently concluded run of ‘ALTAR BOYZ’ at Beck Center was met with sizeable crowds and good word of mouth. That’s the positive part. The other aspect is that the show, both the script and the production, though entertaining, were somewhat lacking.

Yes, the show received numerous awards, and has brought younger audience’s into the theatre, but what is it intended to be? It’s not really a spoof, or a satire or a parody. It’s a ‘NUNSENSE,’ ‘FOREVER PLAID,’ and ‘GODSPELL’—kinda’ thing. It pokes fun at boy bands and brushes Christian/Catholic positions on evolution, homosexuality, and unwed mothers, among others, and, of course, turns the other cheek when necessary. But, for what purpose? As one out-of-town reviewer said, “It’s amiable, but its also aimless.” And, being a message guy, that’s my problem with the script.

The show, for those who didn’t see it, is a supposedly real-time concert, in fact the last concert of the Altar Boyz “Raise the Praise” tour. The five-member group sing, have some lines that bridge the songs together, dance, and try and get the audience to repent. Their level of success is measured on a “sinner’s meter” which keeps track of those in the audience who are still on their way to hell. Finally, we are down to four hold-outs. And, no surprise, they are members of the Altar Boyz. All the members except the Jewish kid. Yep, one of the Catholic Altar Boyz is Jewish. Why, I’m not sure, but I’m certain that Kevin Del Agula, the script’s writer, figured he could use the yarmulke wearing kid for some laughs and use him as the only one who doesn’t “sell out.” there a religious message here?

The show had its debut in September of 2004 at the New York MusicaTheatre Festival and opened Off Broadway in March,2005 and has had a prosperous run.

The show's music and lyrics were written by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker and the idea was hatched by Ken Davenport and Marc Kessler.

As for the Beck production. It was an enjoyable experience, but could have been much more. Now, to be fair, I saw the last show, a matinee mainly populated by senior citizens. There was mild response to the requests for participation and some audience members seemed lost in the material. One lady sitting near me was offended by the “sacrilegious” nature of the material. Since this is the kind of show that requires reaction from the audience, this might have been the reason for some flatness.

The obvious “star” of this production was John Riddle, who portrayed the fey Mark to perfection. He minced and over-gestured with panache. He has an excellent singing voice and appeared to be the only real dancer on stage. His “Epiphany” was delightful.

John Rhett Noble, who has portrayed Gaston in the numerous recreations of Beck’s ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST,’ gives an adequate performance as Matthew, the leader of the group. He lacked the necessary vocal and personality dynamics to control the stage. His “Something About You” was well done.

Connor O’Brien who portrayed Abraham had some projection problems. Part way through the show he ripped off his microphone, losing his head covering in the process, and did the ending with no electronic aid. His articulation needed work as many of his lines were lost. His character development was not always believable.

Dan Grgic, portraying the less than bright southerner Luke, overdid the accent causing comprehension problems and portrayed a characterization rather than a character.

Ryan Jagru was appealing as the Hispanic Juan, but often overdid the accent and at times lost the characterization.

Hernando Cortez’s choreography was creative and purposeful. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the dancers to execute the polish and perfection which Cortez demands of his Verbs Ballet company.

Scott Spence’s direction was basically on course, but there were times when there needed to be more life, more enthusiasm, more naturalness from some of the cast members.

Larry Goodpaster’s musical direction was excellent, but one could have wished that he had worked with the cast on better pronunciation. Some song lyrics were garbled.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck’s ‘ALTAR BOYZ’ was an enjoyable theatrical experience. A listening to the off-Broadway cast CD gives an idea of what the show could have been with a little more abandonment and dynamics.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Charming, tender HAROLD AND MAUDE at Cain Park

Yes, ‘HAROLD AND MAUDE, AN INTIMATE MUSICAL’ is based on the cult 1971 film ‘HAROLD AND MAUDE.’ Devotees of the film will have to accept that the musical not only changes the plot a bit, but softens up the chilly, darkly comic mood of the original. This is with good reason. A movie distances the viewer from the reality, theatre doesn’t allow for this. The insertion of music also changes the flow of the production. In addition, when one media is transformed into another, changes naturally take place. A classic example is the comedy film version of ‘THE PRODUCERS’ versus the musical version.

Does this mean that ‘HAROLD AND MAUDE, AN INTIMATE MUSICAL’ is a great piece of theatre? No. But, it has personal values that make for a charming and tender evening of theatre. And, if the reaction of the audience the night I attended is any indication, then there is much to like about Victoria Bussert’s staging and interpretation.

The plot line centers on an attention-starved young man so fascinated with death that he attends strangers funerals, frequently fakes his own suicide and decapitation, but eventually finds love and self-respect in the presence of a 79-year old bohemian Holocaust survivor who sees the world as a place to explore and appreciate rather than view through a prism of rules and frustration.

Tom Jones (“THE FANTASTICS”) and newcomer Joseph Thalken have written an often smart, funny, irreverent, tuneful score. Again, the movie-obsessed will complain because the period-and mood-defining Cat Stevens soundtrack has been replaced. Again, so what!

As for the Cain Park production. Are Corey Mach (Harold) and Maryann Nagel (Maude) the parallels to Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon of film fame? No. And, I, for one, am glad. They don’t attempt to duplicate those performances. (Just as Nathan Lane doesn’t do a Zero Mostel imitation in ‘THE PRODUCERS.’)

Yes, Nagel, with her beautiful complexion and youthful voice isn’t 79. After a short while, it matters little. Her charm and naturalness shine through, and with her wonderful singing voice, she enfolds us in the character’s philosophy of life. Her renditions of “Two Sides of a River,” “The Real Thing,” both sung with Mach, and “The Chance to Sing,” her plaintive solo, are all fine!

Tall, lanky and talented Mach is very believable as Harold. The opening scene, in which he sings a suicide note, climbs on a stool, puts his neck into a noose and steps off into the air and hangs there as his mother walks in, glances dismissively at the hanging body a few times, and reacts in horror with the line, "White socks with brown shoes!" is hysterical. He does a fine job of making the transition from an emotionally dead youth to a sensitive young man who seems to have found a purpose in life, thanks to Maude.

Jacqueline Cummins generally misses the mark as Harold’s mother. Yes, she is creating a caricature, but she does so inconsistently with little reality.

On the other hand, Devon Yates and Patrick Janson, who portray all of the other characters, are delightful. It’s worth the price of admission to watch Yates, as Sunshine, an off-the-wall performer, sing and act out the hysterical ‘Montezuma.”

Bussert paces the show well, and though there were some opportunities for even more delight, she does well in keeping the audience involved. Jodie Ricci’s musical direction is right on key!

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: I found ‘HAROLD AND MAUDE, AN INTIMATE MUSICAL’ full of endearing melodies, quirky-humor and uplifting charm. For those who wanted this is to be a reenactment of the film version, get over it!